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DIVE ODYSSEY: A Day in the Life of… an Underwater Actress (Watch Video)



Gemma Smith talks about her role in Dive Odyssey. You can watch this amazing short film here:


The sport of diving always reminds me of an oak tree: there is the main trunk from which everything else grows, but there are also hundreds of branches reaching out in all directions, eager to be independent and different. This is exactly how diving is! From the main interest we all have in our underwater world there are a never-ending variety of new branches to go off and explore, and something new to learn, enthuse or inspire everyone, regardless of age, gender, or experience. I don’t think it is possible for anyone to ever be bored as a diver! In this series I want to explore some of the many possible careers and paths available to those of us lucky enough to have access to the many oceans, lakes, rivers and waterways on our planet, and in this article I’ll take a closer look into the life of an underwater actress, and in particular what it is like to work on an underwater filming project.

The Birth of Dive Odyssey

Sometimes I question my sanity. I really do. It’s the middle of winter with just a few weeks left until Christmas. A couple months back, if I would have imagined life at this time, I’d see myself sitting at home in front of a roaring fire. There would be piles of chocolate and holiday food around me, and I would generally be enjoying some festive cheer. The life of someone working full time in the diving industry tends to involve long hours and lots of physical work. We take our breaks as and when we can, and Christmas is one of the few times of the year where we can totally stop. Where am I though? Well, I’m not at home in front of a fire, and there is a distinct lack of chocolate and Christmas cake. I’m in Finland. In the middle of December. And I’m getting ready for one of the most unusual dive projects I’ve ever been involved in.

If you had asked me a while back if I’d ever thought of being an actress, my answer would be a resounding ‘NO’! My sister was the accomplished actress in the family, starring in school plays right from a youngster all the way through her teenage years. I couldn’t imagine anything worse! No, l was more than happy to leave that side of things to the professionals. I would never agree to act…would I?

Sometimes someone comes up with an idea that is so crazy and unique that you know that you just have to do it. In this case, for me, there was no question in my mind. Janne Suhonen, along with Antti Apunen, is one-half of the legendary Scandinavian ‘Divers of the Dark’ filming team. For years I had admired their work. From the iconic shots of Ojamo Mine in their homeland of Finland to their French cave diving series of films and photographs to their masterpiece of a book showcasing the Molnar Janos cave in Budapest; as far as I was concerned their work was unrivaled. Having had the chance to meet them several years back at a dive conference we had struck up a friendship. So when Janne contacted me about being involved in his next project I immediately said yes. This was a dream come true for me. I’d done lots of underwater modeling for photographs before, so I wasn’t worried. I mean, it was modeling I’d be doing right? Well, kind of. I would indeed be in front of a camera….but he was making an underwater movie and I’d be one of the actors.

We all love diving, of course, we do. However, even the most zealous dive enthusiast has to grudgingly concede that as a spectator sport it is lacking slightly. Janne dreamed of changing that. Inspired by the classic movies such as Blade Runner, 2001 – A Space Odyssey, and of course James Cameron’s own underwater masterpiece The Abyss, his idea was to make an underwater sci-fi movie of sorts. Nothing even comes close to the otherworldly feel and sense of the unknown of outer space as the underwater world does, so why not combine the two? Diving needs to have a fun as well as a serious side. After all, isn’t this element of escapism one reason we all started this sport in the first place? And from this seed of an idea, the concept for the movie ‘Dive Odyssey’ was born.


A project of this size is never easy from a logistics point of view. Between arranging all the gear and gas, the timings and schedules of various elements, and trying to bring together a motley crew of international divers from various corners of the globe all at the same time, Janne did not have an easy task on his hands. The plan from the outset was to have the film split into three distinct phases, with this first phase being filmed at the famous Ojamo Mine just outside Helsinki. It’s late one evening in December when the British contingent, myself among them, arrive to start filming. Everyone on the project has been handpicked for a certain role. TV presenter and full-time adventurer Andy Torbet and I are the two ‘actors’, we have multiple cameramen and a lighting crew, as well as surface support for when we are in water. Most of the team have worked together before, and we are all friends and colleagues. This is just as well, as Janne’s plan is by no means simple, as we are about to discover…

The Story

With the international team now assembled, it is our chance to hear for the first time in full Janne’s dream and vision for his film. The story will have no words or spoken voice. It will rely totally on the ambience, evocative lighting, the stunning underwater scenery and locations, and specially composed music to tell the narrative. Detailing the meeting between an earthly human Explorer meeting an otherworldly underwater ‘Being’, it will follow their subsequent journey together. The location for phase one of the shoot would be without a doubt the most dramatic. Filming and working at depths of up to 80m/260ft in temperatures of 1-2 degrees Celsius/34-36 degrees Fahrenheit for hours at a time, the whole team would be equipped with CCRs, not to mention plenty of thermals and heated vests! Andy and I even had special custom-made gear for the roles; he as the ‘Being’ in a steel grey colour scheme, and I as the human Explorer in bright orange. Drysuits, scooters, rebreathers, tanks, everything was colour matched to our specific roles. While a bright orange JJ rebreather would not necessarily have been my first colour choice, when it is seen on camera it truly comes alive. There is no question that a good director has more to think about than ‘just’ directing.

A typical dive day

Due to the limitation in access to the mine because of the commercial diving school based at the site, we are restricted to late afternoon or evening dives only. This actually works very well, as there is a surprising amount of dry land work to do first. Being the professional that he is, Janne has hand drawn and storyboarded every single scene he wants to film. This allows not only him to envisage what he wants, but is a huge help in allowing the actors to understand what is needed from them. Plus the fact that at 80m/260ft in this kind of temperature we really need to nail the shots the first time around. No one wants to spend more time completing cold water decompression than they have to. After the morning wake up call and a warming breakfast at the nearby lodge where we are staying, the team normally arrives at Ojamo around midday. This gives us all a couple hours to strip and prep all rebreathers from the day before, and complete checks on all gear. The freezing temperatures are a constant reminder of just how on the ball we need to be. What might be a small or annoying issue in warm water (a flooded drysuit say) could easily turn into a really serious problem in these conditions. When everyone is sure that their gear is good to go, its time for the specific filming briefing. With the storyboards as our guide, we do dry land run-throughs of everything we want to do underwater. Practice on land makes the task of coordinating underwater so much easier.

Our aim is always to get in the water around 5pm, but things often take longer than anticipated on a film shoot! Getting in the water around 6pm and out around 9pm is a good day. It’s often easy to forget just how involved these dives are. We are all diving CCR with a minimum of two bailout tanks. We are working at least 500m into the mine, so to maximise bottom time Diver Propulsion Vehicles are used to get to the particular location for the shot more quickly. We are diving in an overhead, so all the gear needed for ensuring safety in that environment (primary light, two back up lights, reels, spools, arrows and cookies, and so on) also has to be carried by every diver on every dive. Add to this needing enough drysuit, dry gloves, and enough thermals to remain safe and comfortable in this water temperature. Oh, and at the same time as all this, remember that you are a human Explorer interacting with an otherworldly ‘Being’ and act accordingly! I was only glad that I didn’t have to deal with a camera as well! This was some of the most technically challenging, not to mention thermally tough, diving I’ve done. It was also incredibly fulfilling. I count myself lucky that I was able to work with such a professional team on my first film shoot, both in my fellow actor and in the amazing lighting and filming crew.


At the end of the day, I had the easy job. Now it’s up to the director to make a coherent whole out of the scenes we filmed. Trying to tell a story with no dialogue is not going to be easy, but I know if anyone can do it Janne can. From here comes the editing, colour correcting, general post-production, and the composing of music to bring this mini-film together. And this, after all, this is only phase one of filming! Now some of the team go on to the Plura cave system in northern Norway for the above water snowy wilderness sequences, as well as the reshooting of any shots as required, and finally on to the pool in Helsinki for the grand finale of the adventure the ‘Being’ and the human Explorer have shared together. It’s been over 18 months since first filming, and work on the project is still ongoing. I can’t wait to see the finished film, but whatever happens its been an incredible experience. I’ve learnt so much and worked with an amazing team, and I don’t think you can ask much more than that.

To find out more about International Training, visit

From its humble beginning in 1994 to today, the group of training agencies Scuba Diving International (SDI), Technical Diving International (TDI), and Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) form one of the largest diving certification agencies in the World – International Training. With 24 Regional Offices servicing more than 100 countries, the company today far exceeds the original vision the founders had when they conceived the idea on a napkin, sitting at a kitchen table in the early 1990’s.

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Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 6



Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 6 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Thursday has dawned and it is down to the House Reef with an outgoing tide that is approaching slack so we can get in the water straight away.   Lots of chat about last night’s RAID O2 Provider session with Moudi.  Oatsie is talking about sidemounts and marine biology, Swars is looking forward to his first sidemount session this afternoon.

Moudi is supported by Oatsie this morning and doing some more skill work with Keiron.

Moudi running the guys through the RAID O2 Administrator Course

Corey was asking last night about what it is like at 30 metres, so I have decided that with Michael and Swars we will take him to 30 metres.  We are going to run a narcosis exercise so out comes the slate with the numbers 1 – 25 randomly placed in squares.  Corey’s task, in the dive centre, is as quickly as possible to touch each number in sequence.  He does it pretty quickly and Michael briefs him that he will need to do the same exercise at 30 metres.

Michael briefs the dive and we set off down the beach.  Corey has improved beyond measure and he is becoming a pleasure to dive with.  So we are off to follow the South reef to 30 metres where we will complete the second part of the exercise.

At 30 metres Michael hands Corey the slate; there is a considerable difference in the time to complete the exercise at the surface and at 30 metres.  There are lots of mitigating factors in how quickly you can identify the numbers and explaining a slower time at 30 metres than at the surface does not mean an individual is suffering from narcosis.  Identifying random numbers, if you run the exercise at the surface, several times with an individual over a number of hours can result in wide variations in the time taken to complete the exercise.

We finish the dive with Corey smiling from ear to ear and we have a discussion about depth and air consumption.  The second dive of the morning is a fun dive, then it is lunch in the beach restaurant.  After the burgers I am sure we will need to look at our weighting before the afternoon’s dive.

We will need to look at weighting after this lunch!

Corey and Keiron have got into the habit of recording their dives online using the RAID online log book which is a tremendous facility and as the instructor I can access that data.

Moudi and Keiron are going for a fun dive as are Corey, Oatsie, Michael and myself. Swars is getting kitted up for the first experience of sidemount with Guy Henderson.

Swars getting to grips with his sidemount cylinders

People often look at the relationships that exist between the dive team and our beneficiaries and try to extrapolate a similar relationship to disabled students they might have.  Our relationships are built up over a period of time, in some cases over many years.  We also provide 24/7 support and have chat groups etc on social media; we also meet up socially when we can.  It is somewhat different than a individual coming in to a dive centre and saying ‘I want to dive’. Your relationship is likely to be the same as any other student, you will teach them, they might stay with the dive centre or like many that will go on holiday to do some diving, you might never see them again.

Our main aim is to create a family atmosphere for our programme members, one where they feel secure and they are able to discuss freely with the team and fellow beneficiaries their feelings and needs.

Few dive centres are charities, and owners might want to consider costs of running a course for someone with a disability that might take more than the standard four pool sessions etc.  You may find the number of sessions and the staffing levels have to increase.  Many dive centres, because of their size and turnover are exempt from providing accessibility.  How will this affect someone who is a wheelchair user?  Can they gain access to the dive centre, the classroom, the toilet?  What are the changing facilities, can they get wheelchair access to the pool?

Lots of things to think about.

Roots’ beautiful reef

The reef is beautiful, so much aquatic life and the corals look splendid, especially the pinnacles.

A good day’s diving, Swars has really enjoyed his sidemount.

Lovely way to relax in the evening with the Roots BBQ, a fitting end to a great day.

Last day tomorrow and our final blog!

Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at

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Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 5



Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 5 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

After an evening of chilling out by the pool and in the bar, we are back to the Roots House Reef this morning, with Keiron continuing his RAID Master Rescue Diver Course and enjoying Moudi’s vast experience as he learns more about advanced buoyancy skills.

Not sure where the week has gone; it’s Wednesday already.  A few different things happening today… Oatsie who has just started at Hull University on a Marine Biology Degree Course wants to complete his sidemount course and this afternoon he is out with Guy Henderson to start his learning.  Swars also wants to do the course, as he wants to get into cavern and cave diving.  Swars will start his course tomorrow afternoon and both will spend a day being taught be Steve Rattle on Friday. Hopefully they will both be certified as RAID Sidmount Divers at the end of their training.

Tom putting his sidemount rig together under Guy’s watchful eye

The morning sees Swars and I working with Corey again and taking him through the remainder of skills and OW dives.  He is improving massively but we still have to work on trim and propulsion.

Keiron, unfortunately for him, has Oatsie and Michael for his diver recovery exercises; I am told there may well be an entanglement to deal with!

Conditions are perfect again as we all look forward to three great dives during the day.

90% of those we work with have mental health issues, mainly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of serving in various theatres of war.  If you read some adaptive teaching manuals, they have a task to ‘teach a student with PTSD a skill.’ Hmmmmm how is Oatsie, Swars, Michael or Keiron any different than a student who is free from any mental illness?  The answer is they are not, they are exactly the same. Do you talk to them differently, do you demonstrate skills differently?  The answer is no.

If they have a flashback or a panic attack, then you need to step back and provide whatever assistance is necessary but only if there is a risk of them hurting themselves.  All our team have to undertake and pass the two-day Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course so we can intervene appropriately where the circumstances require it.

Do you know what a panic attack looks like?  Do you know how to respond to a panic attack?

Flashbacks most frequently occur at night time but some do experience day time flashbacks.  Flashbacks can lead to the individual feeling physically and mentally drained and can be triggered by anything that reminds them of the traumatic incident(s) they experienced.  Sometimes there might be a need for one of our medical team to be involved. Often a period of quietness, rest and possibly sleep is required.

Keiron and Corey on the House Reef

We have seen lots of our beneficiaries learn to manage their PTSD. As Chris Middleton said on a BBC programme:

“You can’t beat PTSD but you can learn to manage it.”

In addition to the scuba diving, Deptherapy also provides 24/7 support for our beneficiaries.  Beneficiaries are encouraged to attend the MHFA course with their partner, parent, relative or friend.

Many will have read comments from our beneficiaries, that once they put their heads under the water their demons disappear.  There are several factors to this: the peace, the quiet and the tranquillity that occurs underwater, the beauty of the corals and the amazing aquatic life.

Roots is very much like a retreat for us, we are miles away from any towns, there are no distractions, the nearest town is El Quseir, which is orthodox Muslim so there is no alcohol on sale.  The recent bypass of the main Safaga to El Quesir/Marsa Alam road means that at night time there is no noise, just a brilliant star lit sky.

Roots at night from the beach

Beneficiaries are encouraged to talk openly with the team and their fellow beneficiaries about their injuries/illnesses and provide overwhelming support for each other as Corey found on this trip.

Our aim is to create a family atmosphere and Roots very much contributes to the sense of family and wellbeing.

Sadly, we live in a world where those with mental illnesses are largely discriminated against.  Because few understand mental health, they are fearful of it and try to ignore it.  Please look at the Mind website or even better sign up to a Mental Health First Aid Course.  If you run a business then run the course for your staff, the benefits will be massive.

Back to the diving, Michael and Tom under Moudi’s close supervision gave Keiron some very challenging diver recovery exercises.  Poor Keiron, but he responded tremendously.

Swars, is working well with Corey, ensuring horizontal trim and making sure he uses effective arm strokes for his swimming. We are organising an SMB session, so he can work with different types of SMBs.

Although we haven’t told him, he has finished all his skills but we still have work to do on his trim and propulsion.  We want him to go beyond standards, we want him to be a very competent diver, who despite his devastating injuries, can self-rescue and support a buddy if in need.

The afternoon dive sees Michael joining myself and Swars with Corey.  This dive is about buoyancy, trim and propulsion.  Keiron is doing some more advanced buoyancy work with Moudi.

All roads lead to Roots, is this the future of Google maps?

Oatsie had a great dive with Guy using sidemounts and is looking forward to completing the sidemount course with Swars and Steve Rattle on Friday.

In the evening, and before dinner, Moudi runs the RAID O2 Administrator Course for all five beneficiaries. It is a qualifying part of Keiron’s RAID Master Rescue Diver course but we decided it would benefit all of the guys.

Tomorrow we have decided to take Corey to 30 metres and for him to complete a narcosis test. Join us back here tomorrow to find out how we get on…

Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at

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